Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paris Day Two

Today started out innocently enough. We both slept well and soundly. Up at 8:30 and enjoying the hotel breakfast by 9:30. For 14 euro, it is all you can eat here. It's pretty extensive. While Abby behaved herself at breakfast, I broke the bank. Anytime, anywhere there are croissants with Nutella, I'm done for. So with OJ and corn flakes to start, I had two amazingly fresh croissants with all the Nutella I could handle. Sigh. In order to balance the carbs out, I did have yogurt, thinking the protein there wouldn't leave me madly hungry at 11:30. I was wrong.

We zipped out on the Metro (the 4 to the 1 to the 9, all transfers were fast and flawless, the way public transportation should be) and we walked through the cute little park to the Musee Marmottan for their version of "the Monet exhibition".

For those playing along at home, the whole reason I am here is THE Monet exhibition, which is tomorrow. It is nearly 200 paintings from all over the world, brought together in the Grand Palais. The Musee Marmottan, which is the collection of Monet's family, refused to loan any works to the big exhibition, instead choosing to run their own at just about the same time. And blessed I was that they did.

The museum is small anyway, and I'd been three times before, so I'd seen everything it had on display. But for this, they emptied the attic, and then some. I really had very low expectations that I'd see anything new. I was pretty blown away. The ground floor rooms focused on Monet's friends (works they did of him and his family), Monet's caricatures and his travels to other parts of the world. The caricatures were interesting to see because they were very much unlike the work we know so well from him; they are more like exaggerated cartoons of people he knew. But at one time, they paid his bills. The room devoted to others' paintings of him (and his wife) was interesting, because I primarily "know" him as the round little old man with the long white beard and mustache. At one time though, he was clean shaven, svelte and tall dark and handsome, go figure. There was a pair of paintings of him and his wife done by Renoir, which was just fabulous. One of the quotes nearby said that Renoir was the only person to speak to Monet in the French familiar "tu" form, which speaks to me of how much respect others gave him and also how close Renoir was to him.

There were letters and books and sketchbooks, two palettes with his paint still on them, and a pair of his glasses with thick, yellow-tinted lenses. Later in the exhibition we learned that his cataract surgery late in life left him with an exaggerated sense of color, which he tempered with the yellow lenses.

This exhibition had several "series" of Monet's on display, a few I'd never seen. The basement large room is used to display the larger panels in his collection, and prior to this, it was mostly waterlillies. Today though, there were series of weeping willows, the rose arbor at Giverny, the Japanese bridge at Giverny, flowers generally and of course, the waterlillies. It was interesting to see how they'd brought together paintings for each "series" and presented them cohesively, as if to prove that series painting was Monet's thing. I loved it.

My main complaint, though, was that while the placards describing each room were in both English and French, the labels on the artworks themselves were only in French. There is a reason why these exhibitions were held in the tourist off-season, and that was to make Monet more accepted by his countrymen. If they held this in the dead of the tourist season, it would be full of Americans. Really. Today we were the only Americans I saw there; it was all French speaking people, to my ears. But that doesn't mean that I still don't want to learn from the labels. My French is good enough to get around and make conversation, but not learn from art labels. Ok, rant over.

Now that I mention it, I haven't seen many Americans here at all. I know it is off-season but I'd expect a few more tourists. Usually when we see people who are obvious tourists, they are Japanese. Maybe it's just the holiday season.

From the museum, we hopped the Metro back to Trocadero, where we had lunch overlooking the Eiffel Tower. I told Abby that I don't really feel like "I'm here" until I see all three of: Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Today we satisfied the last. Lunch was at a brasserie at Trocadero. For repeat visitors, a croque monsieur (grilled cheese) or croque madame (grilled cheese with egg on top) is what you dream about. To balance out the nutritional value slightly, I had it was a mixed green salad, but I think probably the kir royale cocktail and the tarte tatin (apple tart) that I had for dessert negated any benefit from the salad. With all that protein though, we were super-charged for the afternoon.

We walked over to Trocadero, overlooking the Tower and the fountains leading up to it. Unbeknownst to me, there was yet another Christmas Market set up around the fountains, with an added ice rink and snow park that the other markets didn't have. We contemplated having a stroll through the markets and over to the Tower, but it was colder and threatening rain, so we're gambling that tomorrow might be a better day for that.

On we went down the road to the Alma Tunnel area, where I showed Abby where Princess Diana died and the flame statue that to this day remains a memorial to her. Nearby was our destination: the Pierre Berge and Yves St. Laurent Foundation, which was hosting the David Hockney exhibit. While I am not at all a fan of modern art, this one blew me away. Hockney happened to start playing with his iPhone one morning, drawing the sunrise as he saw it out his window. Then he started drawing the flowers that were put in his room every day. The scenes and still lives of fresh flowers that he drew are what made up this exhibition. It had 20 iPhone and 20 iPads, each of which cycled through either a series of 4 or 5 flower "paintings" or presented an animated progression as he did one from a clean slate through to the end. It was fascinating for me, I suppose because I am a techno geek. The catalog has an interview with him, in which he explains how he started doing this, how he literally emailed the exhibition to this gallery and how he is unsure how to get paid for this medium, since it can be shared repeatedly without being tracked, just by forwarding an email or sharing a file. Wow.

Our surprises for the day were two. First, Abby saw Pierre Berge, one of the names of this gallery, bringing a couple through the exhibit. This was significant to her as Berge was not only the founder of the gallery but YSL's partner and manager. She was awestruck by his presence. Then, as we sat watching the iPads cycle through all their images, an older gentleman walked by, and she thought, and we confirmed with a quick Google here at the hotel, that it was indeed Warren Buffett. That impressed me. So now we know what the incredibly wealthy do two weeks before Christmas, they go to Paris and follow us around!

After this exhibit, we hopped the Metro up to the big department stores. I knew from my trip research what to expect in terms of decorations, but I neglected to factor in the utter chaos the big stores would be on the second to last weekend before Christmas. Calamity, chaos or just really big crowds, it was overwhelming and panicky. The sidewalks were shoulder-to-shoulder and ten deep off the street. We made it up to Printemps, saw a few windows, went inside a bit and cut back outside when inside was too crowded. I knew I wanted to see the 4-story Christmas tree inside Galleries Lafayette, but the sidewalk was insanely crowded and not moving very fast. We cut across the street, walked toward Lafayette and crossed back over. We made it inside, but it was bumper to bumper people again. We did get to the center, where we had a few seconds to look up, take a few photos of a gorgeous tree hanging from the main atrium of the store, then run before we got trampled. I'd wanted to go up a few levels to take pictures from different angles, but there was a line for the escalator at least 50 people long: they were doing crowd control on the upper floors, I kid you not. So we evacuated and headed back to the hotel to crash for a bit before dinner. I'm glad we saw it all, but it wasn't the relaxing holiday vibe we are both after.

Before dinner we strolled down to St. Sulpice church (our hotel is on rue St. Sulpice, just up the block from the church). There, we found another Christmas market. It wasn't as spectacular as the one from last night; it was probably 10 stalls and a big temporary building of "vintage" stuff. Abby found some vintage Louis Vuitton. I managed to find a ring I loved that wasn't vintage but made by the guy running booth. It was an orange sapphire set between two thin bands of diamonds. And it fit perfectly...sigh. Unfortunately it was over one paycheck's worth of cash, so I boldly walked away. But it will remain the ring I dream about for years to come, I assure you of that!

Dinner tonight was at a restaurant I'd found in my research. Le Temps Perdu is near our hotel so very convenient. We decided to get the 25 euro fixed price menu, which was an appetizer, main dish and dessert. We both had onion soup, which was even better than last night's. Then we had fried steak with bernaise sauce. Mine came a bit too rare so I sent it back to get it recooked. Abby thought the meat was a bit too fatty but I enjoyed it once it was not bleeding on my plate any longer. It came with au gratin potatoes, which I liked. I had the "floating island of the house" dessert. This was a pool of vanilla cream with a large puffy meringue floating in it, all drizzled in caramel sauce. Good lord, it was delicious. We both had a kir royale and I ordered a carafe of beaujolais, which I loved. I'm finding the new beaujuolais I have had to be very light and very fruity, which I will keep in mind for Christmas!

After dinner we walked down Boulevard St. Germain to that neighborhood's Christmas market. It was a bit bigger, but by now we'd seen all the goods at the other markets. We were really in it for the mulled wine (no supplements tonight) and we window shopped a bit before heading back to the hotel. It's amazing how big your pocketbook feels when the stores are all closed.

So tomorrow, the big Monet exhibition at 5:30. I'm not sure how we'll fill the day just yet, but I know we will...

No comments: